Charles (Chuck) Mathews / Religious Studies

Students in the department of religious studies are often driven by a powerful interest in public service, as well as a deep curiosity about religion and its presence in peoples’ and societies’ lives. yet the work we do on religion rarely gives students the opportunity to understand how they might combine their training in religion with public service– both to bring their education to bear on public service, and to enrich their studies by an appreciation of how expertise in religion may be enriched and shaped by public service. I propose to help a group of students learn that, by leading them on a “field trip” across the landscape of think tanks, media outlets, political actors, and government agencies in Washington dc, all of whom are vitally concerned with understanding religion and its manifold impact on our world today.

I would like to organize a two or three-day “field trip” to observe several dimensions of work in the capital that involves religious studies. I was on leave in Washington dc in the fall of 2006, and thus have a number of relevant contacts who would be available for such a visit.

I would like to include visits to several think tanks, such as the Pew forum on religion and Public life, possibly the Ethics and Public Policy center, the center for American Progress, and the Brookings institution; a visit with members of the legislative Branch who have interest in the role of religion in domestic and foreign policy (possibly representative David Price of North Carolina); a visit with a church lobbying group in Washington; visits with several offices in the Executive Branch who have interest in religion (possibly the state department’s religious freedom branch, the Office of faith-Based Opportunities, and perhaps some members of the CIA’s analysis division); a visit with a major media figure, in this case Amy Sullivan, the National Politics Editor of Time magazine (and a specialist in religion and politics); and possibly a visit with a political consulting firm, such as common Good strategies, which helps politicians engage with the faith communities in their electoral regions, as well as (ideally) a visit with the American civil liberties Union, or Americans United for the separation of church and state.  The point would be in several days to acquaint the students both with the range of opportunities in Washington dc to bring their education to bear on major issues, both globally and domestically, today, as well as to show them the various ways (especially but not exclusively in an election year) in which religion is a topic of urgent concern and vigorous debate in many different ways, for many different people across the political spectrum today.

The “field trip” would not be a stand-alone event. I would plan on running a reading group before we went, during which the students would read some classic texts on the relation between religion and politics in the United states, from excerpts of Jefferson, Madison, Tocqueville, possibly Walter Lippmann, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Martin Luther King, to some more recent work done on the “profile” of religion in the capital–the various ways it is part of public life there, from analysts of religious issues, lobbyists for religious causes, as well as participants  in various governmental offices dealing with religious matters.